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Firms eye nuclear power boom

Contractors remain optimistic despite rumours of a Labour rift as £30 billion-worth of decommissioning work is signed up

CONTRACTORS are still confident the Government will push ahead with plans for a £12 billion investment in new nuclear power stations despite reports of a major rift in the Labour party about future energy policy.

A bonanza seemed on the cards after prime minister Tony Blair stated his preference for nuclear energy and the Government appeared to be gearing up to build 10 plants.

A rift has since developed with details emerging of a memo to new energy minister Alan Johnson from a leading civil servant saying environment secretary Margaret Beckett opposed nuclear energy and would try to block new build nuclear projects.

But one source at a major nuclear contractor was dismissive of the news.He said: 'We are still confident the nuclear boom will happen. It may be set back a few years but, to be honest, that's not a disaster.

'Even if the new build doesn't kick in for 10 or 15 years there's still £30 billion-worth of decommissioning already committed to and we're not fazed by the reports.

'There's masses of work out there and we remain focused on it.'

Fourteen ageing nuclear plants currently provide a quarter of Britain's electricity but all are due to be decommissioned within two decades.

A business development manager at a second nuclear power contractor said: 'Margaret Beckett has tried to put the kibosh on new build and in my opinion that would leave us behind the rest of the world.

'Renewable energy, realistically, is just back-up energy and, with nuclear decommissioning under way, there is a hole to fill. It's common sense that nuclear power should fill it.'

Battles are being fought for decommissioning work, including the Dounreay nuclear station on the north coast of Scotland.

Amec, Taylor Woodrow, Kier, AWG and Nuttall have joined up with nuclear power specialists to compete for a £100 million facility to condition and store radioactive waste material resulting from the plant's closure. A decision is expected towards the end of summer.

Client the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is considering hiring Balfour Beatty in an advisory capacity and the contractor could be in line for subcontracted work.